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Game Developer's Top Deck 2008

December 11, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 7 of 8 Next


Folks making it into the Progressives list are largely game designers who stood out from the crowd of traditional creators. Obvious? Sure.

But how did they differentiate? Well, to make it into this section of the list, you have to implement brand new ideas in game development, perhaps branching in unexpected yet compelling directions. Alternatively, you can simply make what already works, work a whole lot better.

Ace of Diamonds: Dr. Ray Muzyka & Dr. Greg Zeschuk, EA BioWare

Over the past decade, Ray Muzyka's and Greg Zeschuk's BioWare has turned the previously niche genre of Western computer RPGs into a mass-market phenomenon. From the groundbreaking Baldur's Gate to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and beyond, BioWare gets it.

And now that Mass Effect is enjoying impressive sales on the Xbox 360, Sonic Chronicles has reinterpreted an icon, and "that MMO" has been announced -- well, the multi-hundred million-dollar purchase of BioWare Pandemic by EA is vindicated, right?

King of Diamonds: Jason West, Infinity Ward/Activision

When Activision decided that it needed a game to compete with EA's Medal of Honor, it turned to the developers at Infinity Ward, many of whom had already cut their teeth on the acclaimed series of WWII shooters. The result was Call of Duty, and within an impressively short period of time it has become a cornerstone franchise for the publisher.

With Call of Duty 4, one of the highlights of last holiday season, Infinity Ward stepped away from the World War II setting and crafted a shooter that was as sophisticated in its narrative as it was in its software engineering. In an already overcrowded genre, the game has sold more than 10 million copies -- and that's why CTO West and his compatriots deserve honoring.

Queen of Diamonds: Chris Chung, NCSoft

The MMO market is a hotbed of exuberant investment and wildly optimistic publicity. The undeniable success of World of Warcraft has convinced many companies that a new gold rush is on with nearly limitless opportunities to print money. The reality is a little more complex, and it's been interesting to see how Korean powerhouse NCSoft has dealt with it.

Arguably its greatest Western success has been with Seattle-based ArenaNet and Guild Wars, and that's why, after some missteps with Tabula Rasa, Chris Chung is essentially running Western business for the firm. So with a sequel coming, and a pledge to flourish in the subscription MMO space, Chung seems perfectly set up to execute on a portfolio of competitive MMOs -- something not many others can say.

Jack of Diamonds: Goichi Suda, Grasshopper Manufacture

2008 will go down as the year punk broke, at least as far as upstart Japanese developer Grasshopper Manufacture is concerned. When it was announced in August that Electronic Arts was publishing a new game from Suda, produced by Resident Evil supremo Shinji Mikami and co-developed with Mizuguchi's Q Entertainment, we couldn't help but imagine the sound of Grasshopper's buzzing, three chord rave-ups transformed into the chromium roar of a new supergroup.

And with the critically beloved No More Heroes getting a Wii sequel, the bold, amusing rebel stylistic strokes are apparently coming to a much larger worldwide audience -- all for the good.

10 of Diamonds: Emil Pagliarulo, Bethesda Softworks

The Fallout series has a long history of dealing with the weight of fan expectations. Now that the franchise has transitioned to a new developer in Bethesda, lead writer and designer Emil Pagliarulo has to walk a fine line between staying true to Fallout's post-apocalyptic roots, and making its Oblivion-esque open-world RPG evolution accessible to a console audience.

By what we've seen so far, the Looking Glass school of game design graduate has the chops to do it, making it one of holiday 2008's key games.

9 of Diamonds: Jonathan Smith, Traveller's Tales

Working with licensed properties has long been a fact of life within the video game industry. In fact, it could be argued that licensed properties provide the daily working capital needed to keep the business running. Still, in this sometimes unglamorous sector, there are developers like Traveller's Tales, which does outstanding work that far exceeds audience expectations.

Titles like Lego Star Wars (and Indiana Jones and Batman and...) are witty and delightful. Smith's work may seem like an unholy promotional mélange, but it takes deep talent and craftsmanship to bring such irresistibly fun games to the whole family.

Sega/PlatinumGames' MadWorld

8 of Diamonds: Atsushi Inaba, PlatinumGames

Realizing that it's better to be The Man than to work for him, Atsushi Inaba and the Okami creators at Clover Studios left the relative security of Capcom for the wilds of independence. Of course, the resulting PlatinumGames studio, which includes Hideki Kamiya, Shinji Mikami, and Shigenori Nishikawa, is a powerhouse of Japanese development talent so its success is fairly assured -- but it's an important statement in the relatively staid Japanese market that major creators can strike out on their own.

And the reaction to PlatinumGames' signing of a four game deal with Sega seems to indicate that talent is dictating the terms of the deal, even in Japan -- symbolically vital for that territory.

7 of Diamonds: Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler, 2D Boy

The development of the tremendous World of Goo -- just-debuted on PC and WiiWare, and at one point the highest ever Metacritic-rated game on Nintendo's console -- is an inspiration for game designers who believe in the DIY culture that video games are founded on, but find themselves making rote titles in cubicles.

Created by ex-Electronic Arts employees Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel, World of Goo was built on the go with a tiny, essentially two-person team, and a "better, faster, cheaper" ethos that utilized many open source solutions and was free from the money-draining overhead of a physical office. This, ladies and gentlemen, may be the future of short-form gaming.

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Arjen Meijer
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great article, maybe one day ill steal a card in there ;)

but that's year away! but one day!

Tom Krausse
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I have to question the statement that "No third party has understood Nintendo's hardware and target demographic as well as the Paris-headquartered Ubisoft" While it's tough to deny that Ubisoft does good with part of Nintendo's customers, I can't figure out why they choose to ignore the traditional core gamers that support the Wii/DS. Given that they have traditional core titles on other platforms, it makes me wonder why they don't care about the Wii gamer, and I know that it is costing them support, even among gamers that own multiple consoles.

Sean Parton
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Fantastic article. Quite a nice read. The joker's section is also rather entertaining, while still insightful.

@Tom: You just said it though, "no third party has understood Nintendo's [...] target demographic". Nintendo's target demographic is casual gamers, not core gamers.

Ubisoft makes ridiculously good games for the Wii, but nothing can please everyone (and in this case, a fairly large chunk of the "core" Nintendo gamer).

Carlos lópez
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Nice article, but you left over some of the most prominent people on the game Developer world

Shigeru Miyamoto - Please, he is the lead designer on Nintendo. If it wasn't for him we wouldn't have so fun memories running trough world splattering turtles and looking for princesess on wrong castles!!!!

Hironobu Sakagushi - He is the sole savior of SquareEnix. He is the creator of Final Fantasy. Most recent Las Oddysey

Jhon Romero - Ever heard of Doom. He is the mind behind the game. Shame that he only shinned once, but still, shinned pretty hard!!!!

Corwyn Kalenda
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Great list-- a few people I didn't even realize had done some of what they have. Very happy to see some personal favorites on the list, like Brad Wardell and Gabe Newell... I was also really happy to see some of the standout indie projects hit the list, since in a lot of ways the guys that gave us Braid and World of Goo and Audiosurf are keeping the dream alive for a lot of people with their successes.

I *did* find it a little surprising that the Trailblazers portion of the deck didn't include Cryptic Studios in some fashion-- when you look back over the last year(plus a little) for them, it's been a fascinating jump into new ground. Announcing Marvel, then selling their single(and very successful) title, then losing Marvel, announcing Champions, attempting to self-publish, announcing STO... it's a lot of unknown to forge that most companies would avoid. The largest impact to be had has, I think, gotten the least notice in the general shuffle, though it's what makes me most surprised to not see them-- the engine and development tools pipeline and their goal to bring the development time on a AAA MMO down from the notorious and costly timeframe we've come to expect down to a mere 1.5-2 years. I realize the jury's still out on whether it's something they'll be able to do, since the upcoming titles are just that-- upcoming, but even the *suggestion* that an MMO could be built on that kind of timeframe is a lot of food for thought.


True, but I would argue that all of those people lacked anything really worthy of the list in 2008-- most of what you're citing is based on past conquest more than what they've spent their time doing in the last year. As I understand it, this list is intended to be a snapshot of the last year's events.

Bart Stewart
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I was expecting this to be the usual personality contest, but this list instead focused on actual contributions -- great job!

One omission that's perhaps understandable this year, but which I expect will be rectified in a year or two (assuming this list becomes an annual feature as I hope it will), is that of David Whatley at Simutronics for the HeroEngine. With licensees from BioWare to Bethesda sister-company Zenimax Online, and all of them saying very positive things about it, the HeroEngine could potentially do for MMORPGs what the Unreal Engine did for shooters. Once games start shipping, I won't be surprised to see Whatley's name somewhere on a future edition of this list.

On a mostly (though not entirely) unrelated note, I'm still waiting for someone to submit to Gamasutra a feature article -- or better yet, an entire book -- on the astonishing story of Looking Glass and what its "graduates," from Warren Spector and Harvey Smith (Deus Ex) to Ken Levine (BioShock) to Greg LoPiccolo, Dan Schmidt and Eric Brosius (Guitar Hero) to Emil Pagliarulo (Fallout 3), have accomplished and continue to achieve in the computer game industry. (And that doesn't even include folks like Allen Varney, Marc LeBlanc and others whose impact on game design is still strong.)

I'm obviously a bit of a fan where the Looking Glass style of game is concerned. But I think there's an objectively interesting industry story deserving to be told here, and Gamasutra would be a great place to start doing so.

Taure Anthony
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2008 was's to more dominance in 2009

but hopefully these key people don't become superstars......the game industry doesn't need to become a "Hollywood"

Mark Harris
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The meaningful exposure of exceptional talent in game development will help mainstream acceptance. Faces humanize the industry, and the art, and give gaming a voice among non-gamers. The real benefit is increasing the exposure of gaming, attracting new talent and new investors. A more prominent dialogue about the game industry could help broaden understanding in non-gaming society; which would do everything from increasing permeation of gaming culture into society at-large to decreasing pressure from politicians to censor games.

Christopher McLaren
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Taure Anthony I think we need to have the "superstar" to create the recognition that the industry needs. How many people ask who is in a film rather than what it is about before choosing to watch it. If the industry needs to have figure heads to improve it's marketing then that is the way it needs to go.

Every single person on this list has achieved great work and are all skilled at what they do. Passing this knowledge or skills through the industry is what now needs to be looked at.

Taure Anthony
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@Christopher McLaren


Jen Williams
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Very interesting article